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2011 Le Mans 24 Hours: Treluyer Leads Audi To Qualifying Success

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After trailing Peugeot after yesterday's first two session the three Audi teams swept to the front, two of the new R18s taking the front row after laps in the final two hour qualifying session.

Audi's dominance, however, began in the daylight session earlier on Thursday. Stephane Sarrazin's overnight marker lasted until the Frenchman improved on his own time by the better part a second. Soon after Marc Gene took the top spot in the no.7 car he shares with Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz.

Gene's time in the no.7 car was the beginning of an action packed end to the session. Andy Priaulx crashed heavily at the Ford Chicane. The multiple WTCC champion span the no.56 BMW – which held the GTE-Pro class pole overnight – on gravel dragged back onto the track, hitting a tyre wall and demolishing the front end of the Schnitzer run machine.

Sarrazin was another spin, though with no damage resulting from his mistake at the first of the Mulsanne Straight chicanes, betraying his quest to take pole back from his Peugeot teammate.

He did retake pole, with a 3:26.156 lap only to have it taken away from him five seconds later when Marcel Fassler connected three best sector times of the session for the no.2 car to put Audi on pole, despite the team's stated aim to run the cars in race trim, complete with the engines needed to go 24 hours at the weekend.

In the closing moments of the first two hour session, Fassler's lap -in hindsight – was the moment pole position slipped from Peugeot's grasp.

The final qualifying session followed the same pattern as the first, held a day earlier. There was a flurry of early quick laps, including Romain Dumas putting the car of the defending Le Mans winners on pole, before a lull, and a red flag. On Wednesday night it was Dumas who brought out the red flag, but on Thursday it was a combination of a stranded Luxury Racing Ferrari in the Mulsanne Corner gravel and an oil slick on the track.

The pole lap was run with 45 minutes still to go, Benoit Treluyer in the no.2 car – arguably the most unfancied of the three R18 – lapping in 3:25.738. There were late improvements. Tom Kristensen briefly climbed to fourth before Simon Pagenaud leadfrogged into third to be the best Peugeot behind the R18 front row.

All six works diesels were covered by a fraction over half a second, a hint at the potential of the weekend's racing between the Peugeots – as much as 4kph faster in the speed traps – and the seemingly better handling Audis.

As expected the Team ORECA Matmut Peugeot was seventh, though the trio of Olivier Panis, Loic Duval and Nicolas Lapierre failed to improve on their time from the first session, allowing the petrol engine LMP1 runners to bite into the gap between the technologies.

Pescarolo Team continued to be the petrol car to beat for much of qualifying. The no.15 OAK Racing car had briefly gone ahead before Julien Jousse – a man making a name for himself at Le Mans so far – retook petrol 'pole' and eighth overall.

However, Jousse and the rest of the team had to settle for second after Neel Jani put the Rebellion Lola ahead.

WTCC refugee Augusto Farfus won GTE-Pro pole for BMW

Gianmaria Bruni had taken GTE-Pro pole away from Priaulx's stricken BMW after the first of the Thursday, but Augusto Farfus upheld BMW honour by clinching pole by 0.448 seconds – a larger margin than splits overall pole from fifth place.

Porsche continued to struggle in the Pro ranks, the Team FelbermayrProton car of Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Wolf Henzler the best of their five reprentative at seventh in class.

The 79th Le Mans 24 Hours begins at 2pm UK time on Saturday June 11. The Checkered Flag will have updates and live text coverage throughout the entire race.

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